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Groups 'Disappointed' Salmon Not Part of Columbia River Treaty Talks

Salmon and steelhead have been returning up the Columbia River to Idaho in historically low numbers. (Ryndon Ricks/Flickr)
Salmon and steelhead have been returning up the Columbia River to Idaho in historically low numbers. (Ryndon Ricks/Flickr)
February 28, 2019

BOISE, Idaho – Columbia River Treaty negotiators from the United States and Canada are meeting in Washington, D.C., and Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, has said the environment and endangered species aren't a priority in those discussions.

That has groups who want to save Northwest salmon from extinction concerned. Conservation and tribal groups have been pushing for modernization of the treaty so that it takes the river and its tributaries' health into account.

Marie Callaway Kellner, water associate with the Idaho Conservation League believes while a new agreement wouldn't save salmon completely, it could play a big role in their return.

"The Pacific Northwest – and really, Idaho – is greatly impacted by the pretty dismal plight of salmon and steelhead right now," said Kellner. "So, the idea that one of our two senators is not using this opportunity to speak up for those species is disappointing."

Risch is playing an important role in talks as head of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He has said the treaty will continue to focus on flood control, irrigation and hydroelectric power.

Conservation groups counter that a sense of urgency is needed to address declining salmon numbers, as the fish have been returning to Idaho at historic lows.

Today (Thursday) is the second day of talks.

While the first Columbia River Treaty in 1964 focused on flood control and hydropower, Kellner noted that a lot more has been learned since then about river management.

"One of the things we've learned is, the way that we were operating many of our river systems has now caused numerous fish species and other species to be endangered, and many on the brink of extinction," she said. "And so, this is an opportunity to bring more resources to bear in rectifying that problem."

The two countries are halfway through a decade-long renegotiation process. In 2024, either country can withdraw with ten years' notice. Kellner said there's still plenty of time to include the environment in discussions.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID